For some time now I have been noticing that plenty of future sound designers are asking where should they start or how should they go about sound design. The answer is yet to be determined – if it is a simple to answer or not. There are no shortcuts in sound design, that’s for sure and most likely you will never learn the full scope of sound design in your life time. You may be great at it, heck even a most wanted pro but you will still learn new things every day. Once you stop learning and you think to yourself that you know it all, you might want to quit right there. That might seem a bit harsh but that’s the reality. Not only you are letting yourself down but you are also letting down the science of sound design. The more you know the better and you can contribute back to the community.

So, to get back to the question of where to start? One answer that I wholeheartedly agree with is that you have to start to experiment. Grab a recorder, go out and record something. Once you get some source material, import it into your DAW and play with the sound. Add a reverb to the sound and see what happens when you turn the “Wet” knob all the way to the right. Play with automation and see where that takes you. Stretch it, pitch it or burn it, the outcome will be always different. If you don’t experiment, you are most likely missing out, at least that’s how I feel.

Don’t have a recorder or top notch equipment or plugins? That shouldn’t be an excuse for you not to try, or to wait for good tutorials or lectures. There are plenty of sources on the internet where you can get some nice samples for free (legally of course). Most DAWs also offer the most common effects that you will need. At this point you shouldn’t be worried if those effects are good or not or if you have the latest technology. You will explore those down the road. Point is that you shouldn’t have an excuse for not trying to work with what you have. Limitation is good as it will stimulate your creativity and ultimately make you better at what you do.

Once you’ve got your basics covered it is time for the next step. Get a video and replace the sound. Make sure you ask for permission from the content provider so you can actually do that. Replacing the sound in a video will teach you how to sync the sound as well and it will force you to work more systematically. If you want to go even further, give yourself a timeline.

If you want to try sound design for games then you can also try downloading any popular game engine as it covers most of the basic sound (Unity, Unreal, Game maker, etc.). If you want to go even further than this, than you can also download most common/popular audio engines and work with that (Fabric, FMOD, Wwise). There are endless possibilities for you to play with sound, whether in sound for games or motion picture; you will just have to try it.

There is a popular phrase which many go by. “Don’t give up”. I can’t nor want to tell you that because there will be times where you will want to do just that and no one will blame you for it, after all we are all human. If your will for sound design is stronger than that, you will not give up. Only you are able to know that about yourself.

As we come to the end of the article I can say that there are no right or wrong suggestions on where to start in sound design and I have merely touched a small fraction of how you can start. But to conclude, I have to say that it is not important how you start but the fact that you start at all.

Unity offers a lot of free projects that you can play with. Download and replace the sound of a project. It may be a bit daunting at first but with all of the tutorials on Youtube or similar places you should be able to figure it out pretty quickly.

Links to get you started:
Unreal engine
Game maker

Designing sound also posted a similar article on their website: Learning Audio Middleware Online: Where to Start?